by Evan Sernoffsky
Part of the job of a media professional is to become an expert on anything and everything. If you really want to sound like you know what you are talking about, you better talk to a real expert. Or—you may just want to let the expert do all the talking.
For a question and answer style article, letting the expert communicate directly with the readers is the goal of the composition. This concept may seem simple at first, but it requires a new and more nuanced approach to a classic scenario. In other articles the interviewer can ask a series of questions and choose what they like, choose what they don’t like, and decide the overall flow of the information hours after the conversation is over. For a question and answer article, the person asking the questions has to bring themselves into the story and at the same time be nonexistent.
In “Question & Answer: The Truth About America’s Schools” the editorial staff for The American poses 15 questions to Diane Ravitch, a historian and professor at New York University, about the state of America’s educational system. At first the questions seem somewhat routine, but the dynamic by which they are orchestrated is anything but.
In standard news writing, the one who pens the article is supposed to remain objective and never include himself in the piece. The pronoun “I” is a cardinal sin of the business. This is a rather odd set of rules given that the writer is telling the story and in many ways is the story.
For a question and answer article, the interviewer comes to the forefront and even includes their questions in the piece. They are as much of a character in the exchange as the responder.
In “Question & Answer: The Truth About America’s Schools,” the editorial staff of The American is omnipresent throughout the exchange; however, Ms. Ravitch is far more instrumental in telling the story and providing information to the readers than she ever would be in a traditional newspaper article. By presenting the interview in this format, The American drops out of sight by including itself in the article.
The questions asked are also more important in this format because they most likely will all be included in the piece (unlike a traditional news story where more than 90 percent of the questions and answers end up on the cutting room floor). The American does an excellent job of asking relevant questions and finds the right question to finalize the article.
Because Ravitch is a historian and professor, she is well equipped to explain the minutia of complicated government programs like the No Child Left Behind. The American probes her wealth of knowledge on the politics of education and pays close attention to detail by asking in-depth follow ups. The final question “what should we do now?” ties the article together by giving the interviewee an opportunity to explicate a possible solution to a complicated situation.